By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
In an essay in the book “Orot” about the disputes on opinions and faith, Rav Kook explains his approach to the issues of fanaticism and tolerance. On one hand there is fanaticism, which believes that its approach and its religion are absolute and immutable truth, and which denies that any other movement has any truth to it at all. As opposed to this, there is a more tolerant viewpoint which believes that all of the movements have some basis of truth, and that by gathering together the items of truth in all the different movements we will be able to achieve absolute truth and there will be peace in the world.
Rav Kook claims that both of these approaches are erroneous. We, in Judaism, do not merely have part of the truth, which would mean that we are in need of additional information from an external source to complete our knowledge. At the same time, we do not subscribe to the infectious fanaticism which claims that we exclusively possess absolute truth and there is nothing left to learn from others. “It is a bad sign for a party if it thinks that it alone is in possession of a living source of all wisdom and honesty – and that everything else is empty and void of any meaning.” [Igrot Re’iyah volume 1, page 17].
Here is the correct way of looking at things: Judaism does indeed include everything, but it does not deny that others also have parts of this whole. Even more than this, the power of every movement and every ideology stems from its specific point of truth. If it did not have at least one absolute truth it would not exist at all. The sages taught us that “falsehood cannot continue to exist.” [Shabbat 104a]. Falsehood has no way to stand up. All the letters of “sheker” stand on a single leg, as opposed to truth, “emet,” all of whose letters stand on a solid base of two legs. It is therefore important to reveal the elements of truth in every movement in order to know how to struggle against the movement. Only something that is totally false must be eradicated from the world. But if it has at least one element of truth there must not be any attempt to destroy it, because if you do so you are fighting against truth, and any such action is doomed to failure.
And for this reason Rav Kook felt that it was wrong to struggle against secular Zionism in a bitter fight to the end, as others did, since it is based on some true ideas. Some people said: If they move to Eretz Yisrael we will not do so. If they speak Hebrew, we will speak Yiddish. Rav Kook disagreed with these ideas. He insisted that the issues supported by Zionism are words of Torah which also obligate us. Therefore we must show our appreciation for the positive elements of truth in their approach and only afterwards argue against the falsehoods.
Rav Kook gave similar advice to parents in Russia whose children were caught up in the Communist movement. He said we should tell them that we appreciate their demands for social justice, because this is based on the Torah and on Judaism, and that there is no need to move away from Judaism in order to embrace the concept of socialism.
This can also help us understand Rav Kook’s analysis with respect to Eisav: “Let me tell you my opinion regarding foreign beliefs. The light of Yisrael should not try to destroy them, just as we do not intend to cause general destruction of the world and of all its nations, but rather to mend their ways and raise them up... The words of the GRA are enlightening: ‘I had hatred for Eisav’ [Malachi 1:3]. The hatred was for the things that had been added on. But the main thing, his head, was buried together with the great people of the world.’” Even Eisav had a point of truth which was put to rest near the Patriarchs.